2013: the best bits

Annual Review 2013

2013 was my first year of retirement so you would think that I would have had more time for blogging. Not so! I’m shocked to find that my last post here was back in October, and I am still no nearer my original aim of using this blog to write up past travel adventures. My excuse is that retirement has been very busy – I’m not going out to work everyday, but I have got involved in many new projects which take up my energies. I think some blogging resolutions for 2014 are called for, but in the meantime, here are my highlights of 2013.

Travel

Our spring holiday this year was to Amsterdam, our favourite city since we honeymooned there in 1981. In the summer we toured New England and, for the second year in a row, our autumn holiday was dictated by Leonard Cohen’s tour schedule: Dublin. You can see what I wrote about those (quite a lot) by following the links. At the beginning of the year, I was also good at writing up days out in Scotland; less so towards the end – I have a stack of photographs waiting to go on the blog. Resolution number 1: run through these in a short series of Scottish Snapshots. Resolution number 2: blog more regularly – it’s much easier to do when the memories are fresh.

Can I name a highlight for 2013? Difficult, but I did enjoy visiting Hildene in Vermont and would dearly love to have this view at the end of my garden.

Hildene, Manchester VT
Hildene, Manchester VT

Glasgow restaurants

In last year’s review, I toyed with the notion of reviewing restaurants, or at least writing a post on The Great Glasgow Curry. Hmm, given that I’m not keeping up with the travel posts I think I’ll abandon those ideas. However, I do like to emphasise what a great collection of restaurants Glasgow has – this year we ate out, by my calculations, 58 times in 38 different places. In 2011 and 2012, our most common choices of cuisine were Italian, Indian and Chinese but this year Chinese has been kicked out of the top three by “Modern Scottish”. I’m not sure how I would define that, and maybe some of the restaurants I classed that way wouldn’t agree, but I think it’s something like using local ingredients with influences from European (or beyond) cooking styles. (One of my favourites, which does proudly proclaim itself as Scottish, is Ingram Wynd.) Many other nationalities were also represented in our dining choices, including Greek, Turkish, French and Spanish – the latter including our find of the year, Malaga Tapas which knocks spots off the competition. It’s off our usual beaten track (West End and City Centre) but is worth going a bit further afield for. Curry’s still my favourite food though!

Culture

Not being tied to the 9-to-5 has its cultural advantages. A new pleasure this year has been attending A Play, a Pie and a Pint, which is exactly as described in the title and a lovely way to spend a couple of hours at lunchtime. In December, it morphs into A Play a Pie and a Panto, which follows all the pantomime traditions but is definitely not for children (too rude and sweary!) This year we attended the last performance, after which they auctioned off some of the props and costumes for charity. Is it significant for this year’s Independence Referendum that a cut-out figure of Alex Salmond raised about ten times more than one of Alistair Darling? And no-one in the room was prepared to bid for the mural of the royal family.

I also got to do lots of bookish things that I wouldn’t have time for previously such as volunteering at Aye Write! (Glasgow’s Book Festival), joining a book group and attending events at the wondrous Glasgow Women’s Library (where I also volunteer.)

Other than that, we have done the usual mix of exhibitions, theatre, film, dance and, above all, music. The classical highlight was the Dunedin Consort’s performance of The Messiah which took place in Kelvingrove Museum. We’ve been to concerts there before and it’s a great venue – the music just soars. Looking over the list of 15 or so gigs we went to, I’m struggling to find anything new – they were mostly old favourites such as Lene Lovich, last seen by me in Leeds University Union c1979, Alison Moyet, Nick Cave and Billy Bragg. However, in a year with a Leonard Cohen concert in it, there can only be one cultural highlight for me.

2014

So what of 2014? In last year’s review I made the following resolutions:

  • Keep active and find useful things to do, whether paid or voluntary. Yes, I’ve done that.
  • Keep writing in the hope of improving, and organising the presentation of that writing better. I planned to rationalise my online presence, but I still have four blogs and it’s still too many. I’ve already made a couple of resolutions above about writing more often. I’ll add to that – Resolution number 3: get back to the original purpose of this blog to record, mainly for my own benefit, previous travels – perhaps the A-Z Challenge in April would help with that? I’ll need to start soon though – lots of old photos to look out.
  • Keep travelling and enjoying myself! Goes without saying!

A happy 2014 to everyone.

Delft

I can’t believe it’s now over two months since our trip to Amsterdam and I still have some pictures to post! We took a day trip to Delft – here’s a word of warning about travel first. Transport within Amsterdam is well integrated, but we came a cropper with train tickets. Instead of getting the tram to Central Station and catching the train there, we believed an app which told us the quickest journey was to get a tram to a suburban station. It probably would have been quicker, but unfortunately, when we arrived at that station the ticket office only dealt with the trams, not the trains, the ticket machine wouldn’t accept any card we had, debit or credit, and cash seemed to be coins only. So off we headed to Central Station, where we found buying a ticket was actually much cheaper. The supermarket we used also accepted a limited range of cards (Maestro), so be prepared! And don’t believe everything the travel apps tell you.

Anyway, we eventually arrived in Delft and had a lovely day. Head for the Tourist Information if you go there – staff were very helpful, and we bought a map with a walking tour of the town. We had been once before, about 20 years ago, but not much has changed. It’s beautiful. Yarn-bombing included!

 

The orchids of Keukenhof

Keukenhof is a park amongst the bulb fields near Amsterdam which puts on a lovely display each Spring – well, except this one! We have been before at this time of year, and it has been beautiful, but this year’s cold weather has certainly inhibited growth, and I really worry for the fate of some of the bulb farmers because I couldn’t even see shoots in some of the fields. Despite the bitter cold, we decided to visit anyway because the hothouses wouldn’t be affected, and we still had a wonderful day, coming away with about 200 photos, so there will be several posts. This one covers the Beatrix Pavilion which housed the orchid show – absolutely gorgeous. Enjoy the photos!

NB The best way to get to Keukenhof from Amsterdam is to buy an all-inclusive ticket from the Tourist Office (there was one in Leidseplein near where we were staying) which covers the entrance fee plus fares for a bus to Schipol and then one directly to the park.

Prinx Apartments, Amsterdam

In March 1981, two young people went to Amsterdam for their honeymoon on what was known as a British Rail Stardust Holiday – train, overnight ferry, two nights in a hotel, overnight ferry, train. Exhausting. However, we, for it was indeed us, fell in love with the city and have been back several times – last week was our sixth visit. These days, we travel more comfortably, and the last twice we have forsaken hotels for the wonderful Prinx Studio Apartments which I heartily recommend. Beautifully run by Ton and Hector, the house is on a quiet canal near the Rijksmuseum and not far from the myriad restaurants in the small streets round Leidseplein. In the six nights we were there, we ate Italian, Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Indonesian and Dutch, all within a few hundred yards of Prinx.

On our last visit, we used the I Amsterdam card for discounted access to museums – it’s a great idea, but this time, we didn’t bother because the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum are not open until later this month after extensive refurbishments, and we planned to make a couple of trips out of the city. I’ll  blog about them later – in the meantime, here is a flavour of the lovely area in which we stayed.

2011: the best bits

I started this blog mid-way through 2011, really as a travel diary for myself which I hoped to complete retrospectively, so that I had a record of the great holidays we have had. We have thousands of photographs which we never look at and I think if I blog the edited highlights I am much more likely to revisit past travels. It hasn’t really happened that way – I’ve only done one retrospective post! However, as well as blogging my main holiday, I have been writing up the days out we have had in Glasgow and around, which wasn’t my original intention, but it’s still travel, even if not very far, and I also hope that if other people stumble on this it might show them what a great place Scotland, and particularly Glasgow, is to visit. Although, I hope of course that many of them know that already!

So here are my highlights of 2011.

Travel: We spent three weeks in the summer touring Georgia, the Carolinas and a wee bit of Tennessee. That has all been chronicled here but, pre-blog, we also had a week in Amsterdam in the spring. Amsterdam is a very special place for us as we first went there on honeymoon in 1981. It doesn’t therefore take a mathematical genius to work out that we were back this time for our 30th anniversary. Instead of going to a hotel, as we have done in the past, we stayed in the Prinx Apartments which was an excellent decision – a lovely place and very handy for the Rijksmuseum. You can read my review on Trip Advisor if interested. Prinx is the middle building below and our apartment was behind the three windows on the first floor:

20120103-142922.jpg

We had four short UK breaks as well – I’ve written about the more recent ones, to Grasmere in the Lake District and to Fife, but Kelso and Moffat pre-dated the blog. The latter was lovely, the former less so – but that’s a whole other story! So what was my favourite travel destination for 2011? Has to be Amsterdam, I just love it.

Glasgow restaurants: As well as eating out on our travels, we also eat out in our home city A LOT! I’ve calculated that in 2011 we ate in 35 different Glasgow restaurants, some more than once. Of those, seven were Indian, seven were Italian and six were Chinese or oriental fusion. My favourite foods are therefore quite obvious, although the fact that all are veggie friendly probably influences the choices. As for favourite restaurants, that’s really hard. Glasgow has an excellent reputation for curries and has been UK Curry Capital several times, so it’s difficult to get a bad Indian meal. My favourite always seems to be the last one I visited, which at the moment is the Shish Mahal in Kelvinbridge where we had a delicious banquet to send off a friend who was emigrating. The Shish has been a legend since the 60s and was where, allegedly, chicken tikka masala was invented. For Italian, I like Amarone which is part of a chain, but doesn’t feel like it. We often go for a pre-theatre before the concert hall and their menu changes regularly which is good for veggies – it means I’m not stuck with the same choice all the time. The Chinese-style restaurant we go to most is Dragon-I, and for similar reasons – it’s very handy for the Theatre Royal. They don’t change their menu quite so often, but the food is delicious, the restaurant is extremely stylish and the staff are lovely. I’m going to leave it at that; I can’t possibly choose one favourite restaurant.

Concerts and gigs: We went to six classical concerts and sixteen gigs (four as part of Celtic Connections). Of the former, my top choice would be the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus performing Mozart’s Requiem, which made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I think my favourite gig was Jools Holland in Amsterdam – we’ve seen him at the Armadillo in Glasgow, which is quite a formal setting. The Paradiso (just round the corner from our apartment, another plus point for it) is much more intimate and we were able to stand very near the stage. All the usual suspects were with him, including the fabulous Ruby Turner, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It seems you either love Jools or hate him – I think he’s great, and that the rather bumbling persona he has on TV is a front. He seems much more in command live. Looking over the list of artists we saw at home, I am struck by how many strong, female performers are around just now. John’s highlight would undoubtedly be Tori Amos or PJ Harvey, but I can’t choose between Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Anna Calvi and Lisa Hannigan. All great. The venue we went to most often was Oran Mor, a converted church on Byres Road, which is small but perfectly formed – and best of all, about 10 minutes’ walk from our house! So I’m not picking a favourite artist, but I’ll make Oran Mor my favourite venue.

Other culture: What else can I think of? Many visits to museums and galleries, six ballet or dance events, three plays, three Aye Write! events. Not everything was in Glasgow – I think my favourite thing (whispers) was actually in Edinburgh: the Blackadder exhibition I wrote about three or four posts ago.

So that was my year. I have never done a review like this before, so it will be interesting to look back in future years and compare and contrast what we have been up to. And it’s all about to start up again – the Celtic Connections and Aye Write! Festivals are not too far off and, as I am writing this, John is attempting, not terribly successfully, to book flights for our summer holidays. Those pesky Olympics getting in the way!

Watch this space.